Monday, January 16, 2012

Baby Fisher, coming soon to a theatre near you!

Little Bit - 12 weeks
Little Bit at 12 weeks
We are so pleased to announce that Baby Fisher, aka Little Bit, will be welcomed into the world on or around July 26, 2012. Annabelle and Little Bit are both in good health, albeit kind of tired.

You're nosy. C'mon. Admit it. You want to know how this all came to be. I would, if I were you.

In short: You really can by everything online!

I searched California Cryobank's online profiles to find a sperm donor who reminded me of my family, both in physical attributes and personality. We were lucky to find a fella who has curly blond hair. He's earned a master's degree in music, and he's compassionate and easy-going. He was perfect for us and the family we are creating.

Baby Bump!
Working with Fertility Centers of Illinois, we explored how this all really works, and Annabelle underwent IUI, intrauterine insemination. Strangely lucky, Annabelle got pregnant on the first try.

Little Bit is the first grandbaby for both sets of parents, and in my family, we haven't had a baby for 21 years. That's a LONG time.

At 20 weeks, we'll be able to find out if Little Bit is a he or she, which we'll be excited to share. I'm already thinking about hot air balloons for the nursery, based on my favorite book as a child, The Travels of J.B. Rabbit.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Not on My Commute, Yo.

I went yesterday evening to what I thought was a community meeting on the proposed Union Pacific North Line project on the Northside. I was expecting a song-and-dance from the folks at Metra and UPRR about the work that needs to be done, how they’re going to attack it, blah-de-blah. There are a couple of things about the project that I think are worth noting, by way of some backstory on the project itself:
  • There are several bridges that the train travels over – it’s elevated in the city – that are 100 years old. Damn, that’s old. As one might guess, these bridges need work. I can’t argue with this; I want to have a safe commute.
  • I commute primarily from the Ravenswood Station. Metra has noted that this is the busiest station on the UP-N line, which sounds about right, given the traffic I see day in and day out. For being such an important station, it’s not available to a number of people because the current station is not ADA-compliant. Plus, the shelters suck. Busy station + crappy station + need to be accessible = We’re getting a new station. Staffed. With a ramp and much more overhead coverage to protect us from Chicago weather. Again, this is something we can pretty much agree is a good thing. I can’t argue with this, either.
Here’s what I WILL argue with, though: Last night’s meeting was not met for the majority of people who commute via the Ravenswood Station. As my good friend @ProfSwyers put it, after hearing from me about the meeting for all of about 30 seconds, “Oh. That meeting was for the NIMBYs.” Not in My Backyard. The audience of that meeting was the people who live along Ravenswood Ave. This was a meeting to allay their fears about the construction, the noise, the landscaping, the drainage, the parking (theirs and commuters), etc. Even the Tribune described it as a forum to display “plans to rebuild bridges and embankments along Metra's Union Pacific North Line,” a forum to display plans of what the NIMBYs will have right next door.

The meeting was no Q&A, like I’d hoped. Instead, the meeting was 10 or so posters presenting plans for proposed work at different intersections along Ravenswood Ave. There were before and after drawings of the embankments, the parking, and the landscaping. There were numbers of parking spaces and square feet of greenery pre- and post-construction. There was only one posterboard devoted to the station itself; I found it rather uninformative, other than it telling me that the station would be south of Lawrence Ave., where the current (old) station is. As a commuter, I found the meeting to be pretty much useless.

So, like a good PITA (Pain in the Ass, while I’m dropping acronyms), my comment sheet was full of questions. Lots and lots of questions. Here are just a few:
  • How are changing traffic patterns along Ravenswood Ave. going to affect commuters, particularly cyclists?
  • What effect will there be, in terms of the schedules, for the construction of and switching to and from, the new third track, which is making it possible for the north and southbound trains to not be constrained to one track?
  • What amenities will the station have? Does the public have input on them?
  • Will there be increased or decreased numbers of bike racks?
  • Are there community organizations that are committed to partnering in maintaining the landscaping, like the Andersonville Gardens? What about stretches of the train landscaping along industry or in areas with high rental numbers? (I got the idea they want to turn the landscaping over to communities to maintain. Um, what?)
I followed up my questions with a critique of the meeting. Yeah, I’m THAT person. You need to know, though, that there was very little time and publicity for us to voice our concerns the first go around with this project, when they decided they were going to take one of the two tracks offline during construction. The schedule changes were, well, awful. And you know, we could have rolled with a lot of this stuff. Like I noted above, we commuters want to know that we’ll be safe on our trains. Schedule changes? Inevitable. But these were unmanageable. Not only did the times make it more difficult to get to work on time, the trains weren’t on time. The City of Evanston threw a fit about service to the Central Street Station, and eventually, Metra walked away with its tail between its legs, muttering “back to the drawing board.” Having gone through that mess, when we felt helpless and frustrated and ignored, you might understand why a forum for commuters to give input might have been a good idea. People just need to feel like they’re being heard. And, putting those poster drawings online would enable a lot more people to comment, since the window to view the plans was actually pretty short.

But us? We don’t own property along Ravenswood Ave. This project might not be in my backyard, but it’s a substantial part of my work life, as someone who doesn’t have the option to drive because of a disability. I spend 90 minutes every day on those trains, so I’m a little interested in knowing how this project is actually going to affect me. Maybe I should buy a million-dollar house on Ravenswood Ave. and find out.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Gangs + Cupcakes?

I get so geeked out about interesting maps.

I went to a lecture today about telling stories with maps. One of the maps that Vaughn Tan shared with us was this San Fransisco map of gang territories and cupcake shops. Can we infer anything from this map? Probably not. But, it's super cool. The violence described in the accompanying article is absolutely not super cool.

Listen up, gangs: cupcakes, not guns.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

what's exciting this semester?

I'm taking a GIS course this semester. Most people look at my like, "Um, GIS? That's... What IS that?"

Take really interesting data about Chicago, and chart it out, geographically. I'm a very visual person (difficult sometimes, also being a visually-impared person), and with my love of both maps and cities, this gets me excited.

Imagine, then, my fascination this morning when I picked up the Red Eye (Shut up, Carrie. I do the sudoku.) and they had this article from the Chicago Tribune about population changes across the 6-county area:

Chicago's population drops 200,000

Census data also show collar counties grew in numbers, diversity

By William Mullen and Vikki Ortiz-Healy

Tribune reporters

10:00 PM CST, February 15, 2011

Chicago lost a hefty 200,000 residents in the last decade, most of them African-Americans, while suburban counties grew dramatically in numbers and diversity, according to 2010 census data released Tuesday.

People continued to spread out far from the region's urban hub, as thousands flocked to Will, Kane and McHenry counties, all of which experienced a second decade of vigorous double-digit growth, the numbers showed.

"I think these data from here and elsewhere in the country reflect that the United States has become a suburban nation," said Scott W. Allard, a University of Chicago associate professor of social service administration. "It is a continuing migration from the city out to the suburbs while there are also immigration waves directly to the suburbs as well."

In the 2000 census, Latino immigration fueled a modest 4 percent population increase in Chicago, marking the city's first decade of growth since the 1940s.

This time around Chicago's Latino population was up just a little more than 3 percent. The white population was down a bit, while black numbers dropped nearly 17 percent.

Latinos and Asians accounted for the metropolitan area's biggest population increases during the 2000s. In both cases, the biggest gains for those groups were in collar counties, not in the city or suburban Cook County.

"The biggest (change) is finding more minority people in different places in the metropolitan area where you didn't used to find them," said Jim Lewis, a demographer and senior program officer at Chicago Community Trust. "That and the loss of black population in the region and the state."

The census information isn't yet complete enough to track where blacks who left the city went, Lewis said. The figures indicate some have moved to suburbs, but a slight decline statewide suggests some African-Americans have been moving out of the region entirely, Lewis said.

Carried by the collar counties, the population of the six-county Chicago region grew almost 3 percent during the decade, to 8.3 million. That's down significantly from the region's 11 percent growth in the 2000 census.

Some of that slowdown was chalked up to the economy going south late in the decade.

"There was just a big boom and then we got to the end of the bubble," said Dennis Sandquist, director of planning and development for McHenry County, who attributed some of the slowdown to the downturn in the economy. "Our hope is that when things pick up, it picks up to a sustainable rate of growth."

Despite the slower rate of growth, demographers said people continue to be drawn to ever more remote suburbs by job opportunities, affordable housing and better-funded school districts.

"Looking at the whole metro area, we are up over a quarter of a million people, which shows that we remain as an attractive place to people," said Matt Maloney, deputy chief of staff for policy development for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. "We anticipate other metro areas in the Middle West will show that they are having trouble maintaining population, so that is a plus for us."

DuPage County, long the region's epitome of booming suburbia, barely grew at all. The county lost about 45,000 white residents, which was offset by more African-American and Asian residents.

"You could say that Kane County is the DuPage County of yesterday," said Rob Paral, a Chicago demographer. "The things we're saying about Kane County today is what we said about DuPage County 20 years ago."

Chicago wasn't the only place in Illinois to experience population drain. A number of rural counties through the state also saw population dips. Overall, the state grew just 3.3 percent during the decade, to 12,830,632.

That will cost the state one of its 19 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Chicago's population decline could also have consequences for its residents, according to Allard.

"The city will likely have to prepare for some cuts in federal grants based on population formulas, perhaps tens of millions of dollars over the next decade," he said.

For the second decade, Aurora and Joliet experienced dramatic growth. Aurora (197,899) passed Rockford (152,871) to become the state's second-biggest town, while Joliet moved up three places to No. 4, with 147,433 residents, nearly 40 percent more than in 2000.

In those cities and others, Latinos found homes far from the city's traditional ethnic enclaves.

According to Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum, some of those newcomers have achieved middle-class status that enables them to seek out better housing stock and schools.

But most, she said, have followed the development in the suburbs to work as landscapers, cooks, housekeepers and other blue-collar jobs.

"We've continued to see that all the Latino demographic growth that has been outside the city while the city's (Latino growth) has been flat," Puente said.

DuPage County "is now part of the old inner ring of communities, with all the characteristics of older Cook County communities," said Lewis of the Chicago Community Trust. There has been an aging process there, with lots of empty nesters and a decline in white population."

Cook County's population loss could have been even worse if it had not been for the recession and crash of the housing market, said Kenneth Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire who was for many years based at Chicago's Loyola University and continues to study the city's population trends.

"Migration data suggest that the … loss from Cook County slowed precipitously near the end of the decade because the number of people migrating out of the county slowed," Johnson said. "This occurred because the recession had the effect of freezing people in place due to their reluctance to try and sell homes or change jobs because of the difficult economic situation."

Better yet? The accompanying graphic. This, my friends, is what I'm doing this semester, making maps like this to analyze data. It's so super cool.

Chicago map - census data on population change
And, I intend no copyright infringement. I didn't want to hotlink the image and bog down the Tribune's site.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

on my uncle's death

This is where it began:
Man dies in 1-car crash near Manteno

A passenger was killed when he was thrown from a convertible with the top down during a single-vehicle crash Wednesday just north of Manteno.

Gregory Kirkton, a 52-year-old resident of the Manteno area, was pronounced dead at 11:03 p.m. at the accident scene at 11500N and 1000E roads, according to Kankakee County Coroner Bob Gessner.

Gessner said the victim was riding in a car that was traveling northbound on 1000E. The car left the roadway, struck an embankment and went airborne before landing upright on its wheels, Gessner said. Kirkton was thrown from the topless convertible. It did not appear that he was wearing a seat belt, according to the coroner.

Gessner said the female driver was taken to Riverside Medical Center. The coroner's office did not have her name.

Kankakee County Sheriff's Police are reconstructing the accident. The report with further details of the mishap was not available this morning before press time.

Kirkton's autopsy is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today.

-- From the Daily Journal, August 23, 2007
My mom is the youngest of three; Greg was the middle child, the younger of her two older brothers.

The female driver was Barbara Hambrick. My uncle rented a room in her farmhouse and frequented the bar where she bartended. He helped her out with her two little kids. He and Barb were friends.  She was responsible for his death.

On October 21, 2009, I wrote briefly on my thoughts after Barb's first trial ended in a mistrial because the jury was unable to come to a decision.

The retrial began in November of 2010.

Jury Set to Rule in Fatal DUI Case
(From the Daily Journal, November 16, 2010)

This time, the jury was able to come to a decision.

Manteno woman found guilty of aggravated DUI
(From the Daily Journal, November 17, 2010)

On January 7, 2011, I addressed the court on behalf of my family by reading a Victim Impact statement that I wrote. Though I'd argue it's not my best piece of writing ever, the State's Attorney said it was the most articulate Victim's Impact statement he's heard.
I would first like to thank the court for the opportunity to speak today.

Gregory Kirkton was my uncle. My family has asked me to speak on our behalf.

My Uncle Greg was a good man with a good heart.  Though he never had much money, he was the kind of man who would give away his last dime to someone who needed it, especially a friend or family member.  He loved his family very, very much. He was especially close with my mom, and he was a good parent to his stepdaughter, Amanda. He loved his wife, Donna, very much, and the months immediately following her death were difficult for him.  In the years since then, he put his life back together, leaving their home in Farmer City and eventually moving back to Kankakee to be with his family.

There's no way to express here today the pain his death caused, other than to say that all of our hearts were broken.

Without question, Barbara Hambrick was responsible for my Uncle Greg's death.

The way my uncle has been treated by Barbara Hambrick and her representatives since the time of his death only caused more pain for my family, making their healing that much more difficult.

My family was deeply concerned for Barb after the accident. She was seriously injured, and we were concerned for her -- not just for her injuries but for the loss of her friend, my uncle, who was a kind presence in the daily life of Barb and her kids. We cared about her wellbeing and her recovery.  This is who we are.  Understanding that she was driving and caused the accident, we felt sorry for her nonetheless.

Our feelings changed when her story about the accident changed.

We heard in the week after the accident that Barb claimed she hadn't been driving, that Greg was driving and caused the accident. The evidence showed this was untrue; Barb had bruising caused by the driver's-side seatbelt.
Hearing this was unsettling, but nothing was more horrific than the news that my uncle, after being thrown from the automobile, laid on the ground for more than forty minutes before the police were called to the scene of the accident.  We were shocked by the thought of my uncle lying on the ground for all that time, suffering in unspeakable pain.  Though we were eventually comforted with the news that he died instantly, we will never heal from the reckless cruelty of Barb and her family waiting to call 911.
We could have eventually forgiven Barb for causing the accident that resulted in my uncle's death. We could never forgive her for her delay in calling the police. Or for blaming the accident on my Uncle Greg.

Over the course of the legal proceedings, we heard a number of explanations about how my uncle caused the accident, none of which we actually believed.  My uncle wasn't suicidal; he was excited about having just had a great job interview, and he was anxious for the job offer.

When the jury found Barbara Hambrick guilty on both counts of aggravated DUI, my family was relieved that the jury believed that my Uncle Greg didn't cause the accident.  Through all the lies Barb told about how the accident happened and all the blame that was placed on my uncle, we just wanted her to accept responsibility. That never happened.  My family and I are thankful that the jury found Barb responsible, since she was unwilling to take responsibility.

That being said, no one "won" on the day the verdict was delivered. Yes, we finally had the acknowledgment of Barb's responsibility by a jury of her peers, but nothing will bring my uncle back. No decision could heal our broken hearts.

I won't make a plea for any particular punishment.  My family and I trust the court to make the decisions they deem appropriate in accordance with the law.  For us, the most important decision was handed down by the jury when Barbara Hambrick was found responsible.

For those of you who saw the videotapes from Heather's Tap, I'd like to leave you with a memory of the Greg Kirkton that I loved. Greg was the eternal "big kid," and when he lived with my family when I was young, he had my brother and me convinced he'd worked in the circus. He would show us his acrobatics by tossing us into the air on afternoons that were filled with laughter and awe. That is the Uncle Greg I remember.
Delivery of the sentence will be next Friday, January 14, 2011, at 1:30.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

what I've been doing when I haven't been blogging

Yeah, yeah, yeah...  I haven't blogged in awhile. I've had a good excuse; it's called life.

Work -- It's been busier than ever, but there are silver linings in that dark cloud. I've been busy because our first-year students are seeking out the help they need. That's never a bad thing. And! We're hiring another person to do academic support, which is amazing (and means I'll not be so crazybusy in the future).

So, here's what's actually interesting -- I LOVE my urban planning class, which I'm taking at University of Illinois at Chicago.  Fascinating stuff, kids! Lemme tell you what I've been up to with that:

I did an observation paper on the changing patterns of riders on the CTA's Purple Line Express trains.

I'm currently working on an economic analysis paper about a commercial block in my neighborhood. That research involves reading about my neighborhood's history and looking into info on several businesses on that block. I recently finished reading a study of the local impact of local businesses versus chain retailers, looking specifically at my neighborhood and at least 1 of the businesses I'm studying.  Both this project and my observation project are classic urban planning projects.

As a class, we have an ongoing project, doing planning in a real-life community.  We're working in North Lawndale with the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation, who has an affordable housing project underway on 16th St. Our project is helping them to plan for use of vacant lots along 16th.

View Larger Map

Specifically, my group of 5 is looking at the neighborhood demographics and the project's stakeholders.  About a month-and-a-half ago, a handful of us went to a community meeting at the local police station and got a picture of who we're working with.  On Saturday, we're meeting with a bunch of our stakeholders to listen to what they want for 16th St.. We'll also tour the affordable housing that LCDC is constructing and take a look at the strip of 16th that we're working with.  We're working with real people in a real community in the city that I love.  This semester, we're only scratching the surface on this project, but even that is a real cool experience.

I'm so glad I'm taking this class.  It's hitting on so much of what interests me about urban studies and giving me an idea of what's out there -- academic and otherwise.  I'm also really enjoying my classmates.  There's the guy who interned with the Chicago Housing Authority, who I'm entertained by, even if I don't usually agree with him.  There's the guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's also doing his economic analysis on the neighborhood.  He and I have shared resources for the project. There's K, who, dare I say?, is my first UIC friend. She's working on the demographics project with me, and we met last weekend to talk census data, which I worked with when I took my Chicago geography class in the summer of 2009.  I got to teach her about how to get the data, and we talked about what we're looking for and what we're doing with the data.  When we digressed over coffee, she told me about the epidemiology of violence (see this project, for example) course she's taking, which was totally fascinating.

I was talking to a friend last night about her recent crush and the excitement and giddiness that comes along with that.  Honestly, I think I have some of that going on when it goes to what I'm working on. I really like it.  I'm challenged and stimulated.  I have things to say, and my opinion is relevant.  It's nice to be pushing my mind to work in these ways and to be academically engaged.  I have no idea what I'm going to take next semester, but I'm looking forward to the next challenge.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I recall in my sleep how you changed my life on Magnolia Street...

I haven't written in a long time.  There's so much to tell you about, but I never find the time unless it's days like today, when I'm overwhelmed by something that seems so worthy of writing.  Someday, I'll tell you about my urban planning class (which I love), the stress of the semester and its new batch of kids (who break my heart), and the mess of trouble I can get myself into some days.

But today.  We just got home from seeing Catie Curtis at the Old Town School of Folk Music.  Catie Curtis is one of my faves -- Shannon predicted this, I think, when we were roommates senior year of college and she brought me her copy of Catie Curtis's self-titled album, which honestly didn't catch me right off the bat.  It took till grad school, when I found myself swimming in the sorrow of her song "Troubled Mind."

Honestly, I can't remember if this was the second or third time I've seen her play live.  I think it was the second -- it's at least the second time I've seen her play live since I've lived in Chicago.  She played two of the songs that just live in such a deep place for me; "Kiss That Counted" had me singing and smiling when she started her set with it, and I cried when she sang "Magnolia Street." There were, of course, other gems.

And then there's the Old Town School...  I can't really describe that place and how it makes me feel.  Overwhelmed, maybe.  Awestruck.  Intimidated, even.  If you know me, you know that music is so beautiful and personal to me, and you take a place like that where the rooms are filled with people taking lessons, making music.  Wow.  I'm humbled, and I'm saddened that I quit playing the piano and the guitar and haven't been able to overcome the emotional block I have on playing music myself.

with Catie Curtis
Originally uploaded by terynjay

Put together a musician I love in a place that's so amazing, and well, I didn't think I would be able to actually go talk to Catie Curtis when she was hanging around at the merch table after the show because I couldn't stop crying.  I get so fangirl-shy around musicians I love, but I actually thought of something to say to her about her "It Gets Better" video (with her partner Liz).  Annabelle was good enough to push me to get a picture, which I wouldn't have asked for myself, on account of the shy, fangirl thing I had going on.

I'm thinking that maybe I'll go tune the guitar. Maybe.